NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Obama's Indefensible Pipeline Punt

November 23, 2011

President Obama has decided not to consider the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline until after the 2012 election.  Should the president choose to cancel the construction of the massive line, he will not only sacrifice thousands of American jobs in constructing and maintaining the pipeline, but will also jeopardize America's energy security, says Vaclav Smil of the American Enterprise Institute.

  • Canada is the single-largest provider of America's imported crude oil and refined oil products, supplying 21.4 percent of all U.S. crude oil purchases abroad in 2010 (the entire Persian Gulf region supplied only 18.4 percent).
  • The current Keystone pipeline has a capacity of 600,000 barrels per day, which constitutes about 30 percent of Canada's total crude oil exports to the United States.
  • The XL line would have a capacity of 700,000 barrels a day and hence bring the entire Keystone system to 1.3 million barrels a day, equal to about 13 percent of the country's total imports.

The opposition to the construction of the new line relies on two exaggerated arguments.  First, environmentalists claim that the pipeline poses a danger to fragile ecosystems that it traverses -- namely, the Ogallala aquifer.  Second, they put forth that the oil derived from the sand formations in Alberta requires more energy to extract, and therefore has a higher level of emissions attached to it.  These arguments are exaggerated and negligible.

  • With a total length of close to 3,000 kilometers, the new pipeline would add just over 1 percent to the already existing network of crude oil and refined products lines that crisscross the United States and parts of Canada, some of which run through the aquifer.
  • Additional safety measures can easily be put in place for ecosystem areas deemed "fragile."
  • On this basis of carbon dioxide emissions, fuels derived from Alberta oil sands are only about 5 percent higher than for an average barrel consumed in the United States.

Furthermore, if the pipeline is not constructed in the name of limiting the use of this less-efficient fuel, it bears mention that it will likely be exported to China as an alternative.  Therefore, it is clear that President Obama would sacrifice America's energy interests for little environmental gain.

Source: Vaclav Smil, "Obama's Indefensible Pipeline Punt," The American, November 15, 2011.

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